President Biden's Sleep Apnea: Condition and Treatment Options
June 29, 2023: President Biden, like many others, has been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a severe sleep disorder where a person’s breathing stops for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. It is estimated that millions of American adults and hundreds of millions worldwide may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airways are blocked by weak, heavy, or relaxed soft tissues, unlike central sleep apnea, where the brain fails to signal the body to breathe. As people age, the muscle tone in their soft palate and neck weakens, making sleep apnea more common in older individuals. However, studies have found that older individuals tend to have milder to moderate cases of sleep apnea, with more severe cases occurring at younger ages.
If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to various health risks, including hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and an increased risk of early death. The condition disrupts sleep cycles, causing frequent “micro-awakenings” throughout the night. Sleep apnea symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat, and morning headaches.
Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for sleep apnea. Weight loss can significantly reduce or eliminate sleep apnea, as it reduces pressure on the airway by reducing tissue mass in the mouth, tongue, and neck. Doctors can also prescribe oral appliances that help enlarge the airway by repositioning the tongue or jaw forward. Surgery may be recommended in some cases to address anatomical issues contributing to sleep apnea, such as nasal polyps, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or a deviated septum.
For milder cases of sleep apnea, positional therapy can be beneficial. This means sleeping on your side instead of your back to improve airway flow and reduce snoring. One of the most common and effective treatments is using a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP). This device delivers constant and steady air pressure through a mask worn while sleeping, keeping the airway open. CPAP machines have become more advanced, allowing physicians to monitor sleep and adjust air pressure accordingly remotely.
Deep sleep is crucial for the body’s restoration and memory consolidation. Sleep apnea interrupts deep sleep and can prevent individuals from reaching the final stage of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, where dreams occur. Missing out on deep and REM sleep can lead to memory deficits, cognitive issues, and increased risks of chronic diseases.
Individuals need to be aware of sleep apnea symptoms and seek evaluation by a sleep specialist if necessary. Loved ones can play a crucial role by speaking up if they notice loud snoring or periods of breathing cessation at night. Sleep apnea can be effectively managed with the appropriate diagnosis and treatment, improving overall sleep quality and reducing associated health risks.